Monday, June 02, 2003

APOCAPLYPSE AND POLITICAL THEORY: I have been thinking a bit more of late about my essay on Mormon political theory that we discussed a while back. As you may remember, I made the argument that Mormonism had an essentialy liberal set of ontological commitments and an essentially communitarian set of teleological commitments. It occurs to me that the relative emphasis is tied to one's expectations of the millenium. During the nineteenth century, when Mormons thought that the Second Coming was just around the corner, the emphasis was on teleology. Zion occupied center stage in Mormon political thinking, which was highly communitarian (think United Order and theo-democracy). After the Manifesto and the turn of the century, imminent millenial expectations recede a bit. With the deferal of Mormonism's ultimate telos, our ontology comes to occupy a more central position in political thinking. Politics becomes "privatized" as the Church ceases to coordinate the political activities of its members. Emphasis is placed on the ontological concepts of agency and individualism as liberalism -- which had been opposed by Brigham Young when it emerged in the Godbeite movement -- comes to be a widely accepted, perhaps dominant, way of thinking for Mormons. Of course, it is possible to overplay the influence of theological shifts on the shape of thinking. The historians in the crowd will object to my emphasis on the moving force of ideas and insist that theory and thought are simply reflections of "real" historical conditions, such as the federal attack on Mormon society and the Church's survival-inspired retrenchment with American culture. Still, I think that there is something to my link between millenial expectation and political theory.